Young people give their experiences with the PSNI

Over the last number of months the Connolly Youth Movement has been highlighting that the PSNI is not a force safe for young people; as seen with the fact that it strip-searched 27 teenagers in 2022 – in violation of its own procedures, and the dignity and rights of young people.

As part of this campaign the CYM has been hearing the opinions, experiences, and concerns of young people who feel they or their families have been victimised by police. The following details come from a survey which allows young people to anonymously talk about their experiences.

The vast majority of respondents thus far have been from the Catholic community, and almost half of all respondents were under 18 years of age. This shows that regardless of attempts to recruit from the Catholic population, that the actions and behaviour of the PSNI continue to disproportionately target this demographic. Furthermore, all respondents fell within the age brackets most frequently harassed by the PSNI through stop-and-searches.

Between April 2022 and March 2023 the PSNI reports that they stopped-and-searched 23,650 people. Of this, 11% were under 18, 40% were 18-25, and 27% were 26-35. The two most common excuses given for stop-and-search were suspected drugs or being stopped under “counter-terrorism” legislation.

Despite stopping thousands of people, only 6% of those stopped-and-searched were actually arrested. If any other force or organisation used a measure which only had a 6% “success” rate they would surely be put under review, and the measure would likely stop; but we all know the PSNI is an exceptional force.

These figures do not even include the unrecorded number of “stop-and-accounts”; wherein someone is not compelled to provide information or required by legislation to stop, but may due to ignorance of their own rights feel like they have no other option but to engage.

Concerningly, only one respondent felt confident that they knew their rights, with most only being aware of some of their rights. One such respondent said that they “get stopped for no reason, questioned in the street & when I’m out with friends”. The respondent indicated that as a result of their father’s political affiliations their “family get harassed on a daily basis”.

This was not the only respondent indicating targetted policing due to who their family was. Another respondent – also under 18 – said that they “still suffer harassment” from the PSNI, and that the police have “dragged me off of school buses”. The respondent went on to describe how family members and family friends have also been “assaulted and harassed”.

Potentially targetted harassment of young people due to who their relatives are is not a new phenomenon. Children of those involved in Saoradh have repeatedly been subject to violent arrests and house raids, as seen in Derry in 2020 where a 14-year old with special needs was cable-tied and arrested during a house raid.

Such raids continue to happen despite former Chief Constable Simon Byrne publicly walking back on his comments that the PSNI “will have your kids”, which he said at a 2019 conference on the use of stop-and-search against young people.

With this in mind it is no shock that another respondent – a Protestant who declared that they had been “kicked and battered by PSNI officers” – said that the PSNI “are the most dangerous gang in Ireland”.

These have only been a selection of the responses, and with thousands stopped each year, no doubt many more young people who have their own stories to share.

With this in mind, we would encourage young people to speak up about their experiences with the PSNI; particularly as the PSNI is about to embark on a recruitment campaign for a further 350 officers, and we would encourage people to have a serious conversation with any of their friends, co-workers or fellow students who are considering joining the PSNI about the nature of the force and its treatment of young people.

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